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Mix Automation – Beyond Volume

In this article I want to share with you how I used automation for my award winning mix of Bo Bice’s song November.  This mix was done for the Sennheiser/Nuemann Bo Bice mixing competition, which was judged by a panel of top producers/engineers, including: Al Schmitt, Tom Young, David Thoener, Karl Richardson, T

im Palmer, Greg Lukens, and Cool & Dre.  We were given the tracks for three different songs that they recorded for Bo Bice, and we were allowed to choose which song we wanted to mix and submit for the competition.  I liked the song November the most, and knew I could do a great job of mixing it.

The track is unreleased as of this writing, and I’m not sure if my mix will be used on Bo’s next album.  So, until I get permission, I can’t post the mix audio.  However, the purpose of this article is to show you some more creative ways to use automation to make a mix come together, and we don’t necessarily need to hear the audio to grasp the concepts.

First, let’s start with a bit of history.  In the “old days”, we used analog mixing consoles, and any automation they might have was usually an add-on system that only did volume and mute automation.  Any other kind of changes in the middle of the mix had to be done by hand.  If you had mixes that required complex changes for different parts of the song, you often had to enlist the help of other band members or studio staff to be extra hands to make everything happen at the right time.  Or, if you had enough channels and wanted to drastically change the sound of a track from one section to the next, you would “mult” the output of the track to a second channel on the board that you would set up with different EQ and processing, as needed, and then automate which channel played for which sections of the song using the mute automation on the console.

These days, with modern DAW software, you can automate pretty much every aspect of the mix, including the parameters of plugins.  This is something that many people don’t take enough advantage of when mixing a complex song.

So, let’s go through the tracks for my mix of November, and take a look at how I used the automation.  If you click on the thumbnail of the screen grab (it’s actually 3 screen grabs pasted together so you can see everything), and then zoom in, you can see my automation curves for all the channels that used automation.  Let’s start at the top and work our way down.

The first track with any automation on it is the Snare Bottom track.  It’s hard to see with the zoom level of the red automation line, but I was riding the volume up between loud snare hits in the chorus sections to bring out some of the snare drags the drummer was playing.  Volume automation is the most standard use of automation, and doesn’t require much explanation, except that sometimes it’s these little details that can make a big difference in the sound of your mix.